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Jack: the lifeboat station project

Photographer Jack Lowe, on a mission to photograph each of the UK’s 238 lifeboat stations, shares with us his love for our fascinating coastline.

10 Feb 2021 4 min read

It was the first time I’d ever been to Ireland, and my eyes were on stalks.

I powered along the motorway tracing south through the countryside, the grass and foliage so dense, rich and green that it seemed to snap at my eyes. 

“Aha, so that’s why it’s called The Emerald Isle!” I thought.

I realise this potentially sounds daft, especially when stopping to think about it for more than a nanosecond, but, to my shame, I hadn’t really thought about it until that moment. The Emerald Isle simply sounded like a magnificent, alluring name. 

On arrival in Dunmore East, a compact wee fishing village on the coast of County Waterford, my first impressions went up another notch. 

Checking into the hotel a little bit later than hoped, I was just in time to order my first ever pint of Guinness in Ireland. 

What a moment to savour. 

Then to the question of food. The kitchen was about to close, so I had to be quick. I was still so wired from that stunning drive that I couldn’t quite concentrate on the menu. 

“What should I have?” I asked one of the bar staff. 

“Do you like beef?” she replied. 

“I do!” 

“Well, how about the best beef you’ll ever taste in your life?” 

“That’s a tall claim. What if it’s not the best beef I’ll ever taste in my life?” 

“Then you’ll be disappointed. But you won’t be hungry,” came the perfect reply. 

I chose the beef. She was right. I can’t remember tasting better beef, nor can I imagine tasting any better again. 

All down to that lush emerald grass, no doubt. 

I had come to County Waterford as part of The Lifeboat Station Project, my eight-year mission to photograph all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland on glass plates. The next day I would meet and photograph the crew and Coxswain of Dunmore East, before heading along the southern Irish coast for some five weeks, hanging the itinerary on my visits to the twelve lifeboat stations punctuating that particular leg of the journey. 

Picture shows an old fashion wooden standing camera taking a picture of a lifeboat team all wearing matching yellow boiler suits with yellow boots. They are standing on a concrete ramp into the sea, with boats in the background. The sky is pale grey.
The crew of Dunmore East lifeboat station in County Waterford, Ireland

In those few weeks, I was routinely knocked sideways by the sheer beauty of the place, along with the hospitality and the general craic. 

And the best thing of all? It was really quite close to home.

I was knocked sideways by the beauty of Ireland. And the best thing of all? It was really close to home.

From my home in Newcastle upon Tyne I had driven to Stranraer, then caught the ferry from Cairnryan to Larne in Northern Ireland. Then came the drive south through Ireland to reach Dunmore East. All told, around 11 hours of travelling. 

“11 hours!” I hear you cry. 

Well, they were 11 hours of enjoyable, easy travelling with music, coffee, regular stops and an overnight stay to break the journey, sprinkled with interesting folk along the way. Not to mention the stunning views I’ve already described, and all without an airport in sight. 

If you’re used to regularly jetting off on holiday, it could take just a little realignment to discover the splendour right on your doorstep, a realignment which would hand you a magnificent shiny key to unlocking the local treasure trove I’ve been lucky enough to experience. 

It’s a realignment that I feel is worth considering and pursuing more than ever. After all, how are we ever going to unite as a global community in the mission to extend the life of our planet if we don’t work towards breaking the habits we’ve fallen into? 

Picture shows Jack Lowe operating an old camera on a pebble beach in front of a large lifeboat with its crew. The lifeboat and the crew are blurry and Jack is wearing brown dungarees and black gloves.
Jack Lowe at Dungeness lifeboat station (Credit: John Chennells)

“It’s now or never,” we’re frequently told yet we’re often left feeling helpless, not knowing what we can personally do to break the cycle.

My Lifeboat Station Project has shown me a way to break that cycle.

Six years and over 150 lifeboat stations later I have seen remote corners of the UK and Ireland with such astounding beauty that I otherwise would never have known existed. 

I have seen remote corners of the UK and Ireland with such astounding beauty that I otherwise would never have known existed.

Some particular highlights spring to mind: 

The wild, haunting beauty of The Lizard in Cornwall with the vast lifeboat slipway spilling into the waves on the eastern side of the peninsula.

Wandering the cobbled streets of Stromness on Mainland Orkney in the far north, a Utopian settlement not much bigger than the ferry that carries you there.

The craggy, exquisite drive along the shores of Ardnamurchan on the west coast of Scotland. 

The sandy beaches and to-die-for sunsets of Anglesey.

The unsung raw beauty of the north-east Scottish coast, with a cosy string of fishing towns stretching from Inverness to Fraserburgh like notes on a nautical stave. 

The dreamy tidal inlets of East Anglia, brimming with coastal birds and magnificent old sailing barges catching the crisp morning breeze – a paradise for twitchers and seafarers alike. 

Picture shows a small pier with an orange lifeboat and a few smaller boats at the end of it. The sea is a muted turquoise green and the sky is moody with dark clouds. There are green hills in the background.
The lifeboat at Salcombe, Devon

For me, lifeboat stations are a wonderment, bristling with state-of-the-art gear and gadgetry – perfect inspiration for younger souls, perhaps even rekindling some of the youth buried within older souls too! 

The memories and experiences of my journey around our islands are too numerous to count. It’s easy to overlook our own shores, but we are blessed with a coastline as beautiful and varied as any in the world, and one that we can explore for a fraction of the emissions of a flight.

It’s easy to overlook our own shores, but we are blessed with a coastline as beautiful and varied as any in the world, and one that we can explore for a fraction of the emissions of a flight.

Its treasures are all within easy reach if ever I choose to revisit them, something I will undoubtedly pursue for the rest of my days. 

You can read more about Jack and his Lifeboat Station Project here: